Somehow, no matter how many different games I play with their various personalities, I always end up back in a game where I play the role of a tyrant; understandably, questions can be raised about my character from my suspicious preferences. That said, Tropico 6 has a unique way of curtailing an ambitious dictator, and it isn’t just the limitations that the boundaries of a Caribbean island present but the frictional balance between the different factions that can topple a banana republic quicker than you can peel them.
While the politics are a vital component, and it can often play out like a game of Jenga, Tropico 6 remains fundamentally a city builder. Aesthetics are important in city builders and how each building flows into the next can make or break the game. Fortunately, each era in Tropico 6 has a defining personality that can develop into some beautiful cities… as long as it is rigidly planned from the beginning. The roads can be particularly stubborn, awkwardly not joining up when they ordinarily should, or bending into new dimensions to find their way to the coconut tree. Naturally, an eye-pleasing city is dependent on the economy so it becomes inevitable to rebuild much of the city later on.
Luckily, the economy can be rather dynamic. It can take a while to master as it’s the delicate operation one would expect from a Caribbean ‘paradise’. Firstly, it’s important to make use of the land available and develop the foundation of plantations, ranches, mines, and fishing harbors. From these raw materials, the industry can then flourish to such heights as making rum or building ships. To do this, people need to be attracted to your island to work these jobs, and that requires infrastructure and various political persuasions to convince them; one of the easiest mistakes to make is to develop too quickly that there are too many vacant jobs and nothing is being achieved.
As a dictator, it would seem the people shouldn’t be a concern but that’s often the first sword to fall on. Each citizen belongs to a faction with certain political goals, and as each era goes by, more and more different factions arise. In the colonial era, for example, there will be two factions: royalists and revolutionaries. The balance is simplistic. By the cold war, you’ll be balancing communists with capitalists and environmentalists with industrialists. Quite frankly, leave it on speed four for too long and the situation gets messy very quickly, leading to an angry mob at the palace gates.
Naturally, elections can be rigged or ignored and beaten down with a little military persuasion, but outside influences are also there to undermine your leadership. The relationship dynamic between internal and external factions can be an uncomfortable balance, or to put it simply, it’s quite easy to piss people off. While Tropico’s independence from its colonial master can be bought for a measly $15,000, the Axis powers in the World War era will not be bought quite so easily. These outside influences will affect your citizens, and how you align will have undeniable consequences on your bid to stay in power. It would be unwise to make a speech against the Axis powers if most of Tropico’s citizens were sympathetic with their ambitions.
The economy is, therefore, run on politics. Controversial, probably. The painful truth of satire and its endless ridicule at our expense. Tropico 6 does a tremendous job of integrating historical events into its fragile game plan. The humor is perhaps the glue that holds all the components together, able to keep the player at the wheel while the economy sails into the Bermuda triangle. That’s perhaps the most devastating aspect of Tropico 6, one bad decision can be detrimental to the economy, and all you can do is sit back and laugh as the citizens congregate at the gates.
There are 15 missions to attempt and various different islands to play on sandbox mode. The missions can be a little dull, with the atmosphere of a lengthy tutorial. The sandbox mode is where most of the fun is to be had, allowing for more freedom and better flexibility. In this regard, Tropico 6 reminds me of the old Age of Empire games where messing around on a random map was more enjoyable than the story-led campaigns.
As with anything with the number six after it, there’s always the small question of how it differs from the previous five. Problem is, the Tropico series is based on a very limited concept: run a banana republic. Therefore, the question becomes one of how much new content has been added. Well, the factions are certainly more diverse and there are new buildings to be built. They’ve also brought back the pirate cove which makes for some exciting raids and heists that can bring the Stonehenge or the Taj Mahal to your islands.
With all that said, it’s hard to see how this series can be dragged out any longer. There’s a new game every two or three years with the concept rigidly unaltered. While Tropico 6 is a well-executed game with very few flaws in its gameplay, it could easily be Tropico 4, 5, or 23 and the differences would go mostly unnoticed. In this sense, it’s become the city-builder version of the FIFA series, repackaging the same game with minute changes.